Stop Offering to Work for Free

I’m not one to preach from the photography pulpit. I’m also not one to sound all high and mighty, but I do need to get something off my photographer vest, I mean chest. Dear aspiring photographers, stop offering to work for free. You’re doing more harm than good.

I get breaking into the photography industry is hard. Getting into sports photography is even harder. I know.

I get you think offering to work for free will get you in the door faster, but it doesn’t. It makes it harder and often times it also hurts the people who are already established in the business.

How so you ask? Who do you think a client is going to hire? Someone whose rates are what are considered average for the market or someone offering to do the same job for free? Now when you can’t perform the said task and deliver the expected results for free, mind you, you now convinced the client to no longer use photographers because they didn’t get the expected results from you. They’ll just buy stock images and Photoshop their logo or whatnot onto the photo by their social media manager who also does video, email and digital marketing.

There are cheap people out there who have no problem hiring a wedding photographer to shoot for free. We all know how expensive it is to have a wedding these days. Is it worth it to spend 8 hours shooting and countless hours editing for free just to get into the business? Again, what happens when your client’s million dollar dreams don’t come out in your free photos? They’ll trash wedding photographers online and they’ll drag you down with them.

I see it all the time in sports. People offering to shoot for free just to be on the field. This isn’t some game, it’s people’s way of making money to feed their families and you’re out here willing to work for free.

What’s going to happen when you’ve decided you’re done offering to work for free and you want to start charging people? I’ll tell you what happens, you won’t have any work. Why are people going to pay you now when you were so eager to work for free before? Working for free isn’t the answer.

People are in the positions they’re in the photography industry because they paid their dues. Sure not everyone pays the same dues as other people and sometimes people just break into the business by luck. I’m grateful for the position I’m in, but even I still feel like I haven’t really paid my dues yet.

What do I mean by paying your dues? You’re going to have to learn and earn your way into the specific photography industry you like. That means maybe you become a second shooter for a wedding photographer to learn the ropes. Maybe that means taking the smaller paying jobs to get the experience before you move up to the higher paying jobs. There is no shame in shooting high school sports before you get into college or the pros.

Offering to work for free has a costly ripple effect for all of those already established. It’s bad enough that our rates and fees continue to get watered down by “the market.” You running around to offering to shoot for free isn’t helping.

I get annoyed when I get turned down for a credential and see people on the sidelines with a photographer’s bib holding a cellphone taking selfies, how do you think others feel when they find out they lost out on income because you said you would work for free?

I know becoming a photographer or starting a photography business isn’t easy. It isn’t cheap either. Gear and insurance cost an arm and a leg, so why are you offering to shoot for free? How does that help with your costs?

You don’t need to be offering your services for free. Your time is money. Your gear cost money. It cost money to put gas in your car to travel to the client and back.

At the same time you also don’t need to be charging what people in who’ve been in the industry for years are charging. Learning how to price your photography is something you’re going to have to learn on your own. It’s ok to take lesser paying jobs and working your way up to higher paid ones.

And once you get those higher paying jobs you’re going to have to deal with people trying to undercut you and stab in you in the back trying to take your clients. It happens, more often that you would think. Welcome to the photography industry where everyone is your friend until you both are vying for the same gig.

And not every prospective client is going to be willing to pay your rates. It’s ok move on. Not every client is the right client for you. Don’t think working for free is the answer especially if they’re a high profile business or brand. They have the money they just want to hire the cheapest labor available. Maybe they’ll give you an outfit or two so you can be a Fashion Nova brand ambassador like everyone else on Instagram.

Sorry if I sound like some old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. I just see an influx of people offering to shoot for free thinking it’s their big chance, but what they’re truly doing is fumbling the bag for others as the kids these day say.

Free isn’t the answer. Working for free doesn’t benefit anyone. Trying to get into the door is one thing. Letting people walk all over you because you said you would shoot for free is another.

I get that you want to jump to the front of the line, but the people in the front have paid their dues and you’re still offering to work for free. And that is the reason why they’re at the front of the line and you’re not.

Now we’ll begin to pass the collection plate around so don’t be cheap, this blog isn’t for free. HAHAHAHAHAHA

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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